Stockholm Syndrome is a phenomenon whereby someone feels sympathy and empathy for their abuser, developing intense bonds with their abuser and can develop as a consequence of traumatic bonding. While it can happen to  anyone, it is more common in those who have grown up in abusive households as they see the abuse patterns as ‘normal’ aspects of a relationship.

People with Stockholm Syndrome may:

  • Focus on small signs of improvement and interpret them as a positive trait of the captor.
  • Look positively upon the abuser for not abusing them in instances when they were expecting it.
  • Have sympathy for the abuser when they share information about their past. They may think,  “I know they fractured my jaw and ribs…but they’re troubled. They had a rough childhood!”
  • Feel that the abuse is their fault.
  • Have thought patterns such as, “I know what they have done to me, but I still love them”, “I don’t know why, but I want them back”, or “I know it sounds crazy, but I miss them”.
  • Have positive feelings towards their abuser, regardless of any of the abuse.
  • Feel angry towards anyone who tries to help them escape the abuse.

Although people may have a strong sense of attachment to the abuser, this does not change any of their behaviour.

Friends and relatives may be shocked when they hear sympathetic comments or witness their loved one returning to an abusive relationship. Contact with supportive family and friends may provoke an outburst from the abuser. Those in an abusive relationship may, therefore, start to avoid their family, fearing that contact will cause additional violence and abuse in the home. They may, therefore, become more isolated.  

In severe cases of Stockholm Syndrome in relationships, the victim may have difficulty leaving the abuser and may actually feel the abusive situation is their fault. If their partner is arrested, they may feel that the arrest is their fault and that they did not deserve it.

The best treatment for Stockholm Syndrome is intense therapy as well as the love and support from family. It may take many years for someone who experienced Stockholm Syndrome to recover.

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